Editor's Note [Volume 19 No. 4 (2019)]

A former student and mentee Ms. Ruth Akelola invited me to participate in her very first training under her newly registered organization, Megashift Nutrition. She chose as her first subject matter - Cancer and Food. Fortunately, I was around and could attend. In fact, I went the first day to speak at the opening and was also able to make it again on the last day, day 3. Nutrition is still described as a young science, especially when one compares it to such old sciences as physics and chemistry. Because it is young, with new research being undertaken and new knowledge emerging, it means that sometimes what we thought we knew changes. Examples include egg consumption and cholesterol, coffee and health, and whatever else, forcing people to go to all kinds of diets to lose weight, maintain weight, prevent cancer and so on and so forth. We went into many issues and lastly, I asked them: "what would you remove from the Kenyan diet right now?". Some of the answers were: fried foods, because most times the oils are used until they are no good; sugar, because we abuse it as we take too much; refined salt, because we add it to food even before we taste it yet, many of us Africans walk sick with high blood pressure. Then they asked me: “and what would you remove” and my answer was: “anything and everything maize”. They wanted to know why and I said: “we eat maize as if it was born in Kenya, yet it now carries aflatoxin which has been linked to cancer and to stunting in our children”. Clearly, we need to address issues of food safety. Unsafe food is poison, and not food. These trainees were all young; I encouraged them to stay active and continuously seek knowledge and question fads and myths. I told them they are in the right field, so long us they stay on top of the game. I reminded them that the African diet is the best-natural and naturally preserved, diverse and including both wild and domesticated foods, insects, animal and plant foods from the water, animal blood, offals and milk from different animals, honey that was raw and unprocessed, alcoholic beverages from whole grains and starches, birds, insects, wild animals and fruits from the wild. Fat was from nuts and animals. In some other areas we had bamboo shoots and seaweed. How can one go wrong with such a diet? How have we shifted away from such foods? We had no chemicals to add to foods for preservation. Meat would be hung to dry in the sun or by the fire, and other products would be put in salt brine. Now we are paying the price for all these bad dietary practices.

As we have been overtaken by research in the more advanced countries, setting the agenda as far as new knowledge is concerned, and globalization moving foods around the globe, we have forgotten how personal food is. People like to eat that which is familiar, and any new food has to justify why it has to be accepted. What value does such a food add?

As I write this, the more foods are advertised as natural, organic, wholesome, the more expensive they are, and especially in the urban centres. Let us get back to the root of what mankind used to eat, and compare that to what we enjoy today. As Africa, we have a great opportunity to take full advantage of our rich natural resource base. We can bring back our lost foods, which most likely are also medicinal and environment-friendly. I challenge us all.

These are my thoughts.

Ruth K. Oniang'o
Editor-in-Chief, AJFAND